Joan Key

Large Goat’s Head


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joan Key born 1948
Lithograph on paper
Image: 776 × 575 mm
Purchased 1985

Catalogue entry

Joan Key born 1948

P77112 Large Goat's Head 1983

Lithograph 776 x 575 (30 1/2 x 22 5/8) on T.H. Saunders paper 776 x 575 (30 1/2 x/ 22 5/8); printed by John White at Curwen Studio; trial proof from an edition of four trial proofs
Inscribed ‘Joan M Key 1983' b.r. and ‘3/4 Trial Proof - Goat one' b.l.
Purchased from Curwen Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1985

Statements by the artist in this entry are drawn from a letter to the compiler dated 5 January 1988.

Joan Key intended this print of a goat's head to be one of a series and hence numbered it ‘Goat one'. It was only in the following year, however, that she made further prints on this theme. To distinguish P77112 from these works, all of which were smaller in size, she later named it ‘Large Goat's Head'.

In 1983 Key discussed with John White of the Curwen Studio the possibility of making an ‘experimental' print. She showed him a group of approximately twenty watercolours on the theme of goats' heads and he felt they would translate well into the medium of lithography. The first of the two prints she made at the studio, ‘The Herd', shows sixteen versions of the theme of goats' heads, one of which is related to ‘Large Goat's Head'. Offered the option of working with up to four colour plates, Key chose to incorporate in both prints made at the Curwen Studio touches of the sandy yellow and mauve colours that had been predominant in her earlier watercolours on the theme.

Key became interested in the theme of goats' heads after having seen and drawn from life goats kept at a friend's farm in Kent. Of the place of this print in the development of her work as a whole she writes:

The goat prints came at a moment when I was beginning to make figure paintings again after some years of working on ‘Garden' paintings, and I was using them to try out the possibilities of personification. One of the greatest problems of composing nude figures is the artificiality of the human head. I rarely make people into animals, but I do not want to use conventional portraiture either. Animal heads are a device to help me abstract and re-invent the human head in relation to its body. Animal-Human transitions are only suggested in my work once the humanity of the figure has been convincingly established. I do not want the mythical/sexual reverie of half animal half human, this seems to me a polite and ornamental diversion. I am interested in how some of the language of depicting the animal (and the landscape) can be used in depicting the human body.

Key has used the theme of animal heads as an occasion for unorthodox portraits since 1978. Not seeking to represent any particular character or individual, she feels free to work towards or away from resemblance, and generally frustrates any straightforward recognition of features. ‘The fact that they are not portraits of people', Key writes, ‘allows a wider range of expression, and the ambivalence about whether they are really human or animal allows us to get away from the individual narrative of the ordinary portrait, so that the signs of hierarchy, gender, age, can be reconsidered as a more general theme'.

This entry has been approved by the artist.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, p.394

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